[mediawatch] Fundamentally Decent Citizens

So on Wednesday there was a protest at Parliament about the bill to ban fox hunting. Quite apart from the issue at hand, it has been disturbing to see how it was covered.
There has been a lot of comment about the protest. Ten to twenty thousand people were involved and it turned nasty, with some violence and blood flowing. Most importantly (in the eyes of the press) a bunch of protestors breached the House of Commons.
Luckily for all, these protestors were fundamentally decent citizens who have been treated appallingly and are sticking up for themselves. In fact, here are some fawning profiles of these brave citizens.
(Trust me, it was worse in the print media – loads of snazzy photos of handsome young men looking upstanding, with royals in shot if possible.)
Hmm. I seem to detect a slightly different flavour to the coverage of this protest than that accorded a certain other protest in recent memory. That one against the Iraq war?
It almost makes one suspect that, here in the UK, there are unresolved issues of class.

[mediawatch] fahrenheit 9/11

Saw it almost a week ago. Liked it more than I expected. The gap before posting comment is more due to being a busy bugger than needing to ruminate, oddly enough.
Anyway. I think most of the criticism of the film is wrongheaded, and this is why: Moore is not trying to construct an argument, he is trying to challenge and undermine the narrative handed down by the Bush administration.
This sort of thing is supposed to be the role of the media in general. Unfortunately, given the massive systemic problems within modern media systems, this isn�t happening. So, part of Moore�s job is to challenge the media as much as the narrative.
Moore�s film can only be understood in the context of the media coverage of the Iraq war. It won�t just be no longer current in five years� time � it�ll be nearly incomprehensible. It is *specifically designed* to run in parallel to regular media coverage. In this sense, it is wrong to expect Moore to be balanced � he is not trying to present the whole picture, just the side that isn�t already in the news.
Moore also presents a lot of things not as concrete criticisms but as symbols, ways to approach the administration that are verboten in the narrative which is handed down by the media. The make-up, the golf bit, even the 9/11 footage isn�t necessarily saying �this is stuff they�re doing wrong�, it�s saying �see these guys? they�re way more fallible than you are normally allowed to see.� Refuting these by saying �they aren�t criticisms!� is missing the point.
I have problems with the film. It rambles, doesn�t make its points with any clarity, is self-indulgent and at times stupidly simplistic, and betrays hints of racism (the sinister Saudis) and jingoism (the coalition mockery).
But I think the vitriol being thrown at it just doesn�t stick. Moore�s project is a valuable one and the big criticisms don�t impact on this project at all. People should see this film, even if they disagree with everything it says. It is impossible to come out of this film and still fully buy into the narrative of power that comes spinning out of the White House, and that is Moore�s greatest achievement and why he isn�t preaching to the converted after all.
Final note: one of the big criticisms of the film is that Moore misrepresents the Saudi flights. I think he does try to make a bigger deal of this than is warranted � but his overall point is that the Saudis received special treatment because they had big financial influence in the Capitol. It wasn�t about �you screwed up the 9/11 investigation� but rather �see how much influence the Saudis have?�
The criticism says (a) Richard Clarke okayed it, and he�s out of the Bush crew, so it�s wrong to try and stick it on Bush; and (b) they didn�t get special treatment anyway, just what any other wealthy group would have got.
(A) This barely needs a response – Clarke was part of the admin at the time, and his decisions served the administration. The fact that he has expressed criticism of how the Bush admin works doesn�t make his decision somehow independent of the charge of undue Saudi string-pulling.
(B) This is harder to prove, as it can only ever be a �what if� counterfactual � but I have no doubt that if the family in question weren�t incredibly wealthy folk tied in to the White House, then there�s no way they would have been cleared for departure so quickly. At the same time as hundreds of Arab-looking people were being detained without charge, the Saudis � who have close family ties to Osama, even though he is estranged � were moved to the front of the queue, given questioning aboard planes, and then given clearance to leave the moment the no-fly order was lifted. Hell, if they were French, they�d still all be locked up.

[mediawatch] The Power of the Disconnect

(warning: this will be a long train of thought about media and politics and stuff. there won’t be a joke at the end. skip it if this stuff bores you.)
So one of the things I got out of the Palestine event was another angle on the same issue I’ve been messing with for years: the role of the popular media in perpetuating injustice.
I think now, more than ever, people are aware that the mediated presentations of political content can be deceptive. Everyone knows that you can’t trust the media – or at least, everyone says they know. Unfortunately, it continues to be clear that most people aren’t nearly as good as they claim to be at identifying and managing media slant.
There are dozens of ways in which the workings of big media obscure issues, and most of those ways are seized upon and actively exploited by the savvy PR people who are an essential part of the entourage of anyone in the public eye. I’m not going to go into those right now. There’s plenty of other places to read stuff like that.
What we as a society need, then, is a way to take this notion of media-awareness and make it an actuality. And a key tool in that mission is the disconnect.
Everyone has experienced this at some point. Something you know about or care about has turned up in the newspaper or on TV, and you’ve watched/read the coverage and been taken aback by it. Maybe it angered you; more likely it just made you realise how far their portrayal was from your experience.
That is the disconnect.
The disconnect is powerful. Most of us don’t encounter personally-important things in media coverage often enough to experience the disconnect. But I suspect that if someone was to have enough disconnects, in short enough timespan, they would start to identify the patterns behind the disconnects. Their claims of media-awareness would become actual instead of notional.
Consider the marketing goal of imparting the value of a brand or a product through impressions. If I remember right, something like seven impressions (advertisements, people mentioning it, seeing it on display) are needed to convince someone to buy a product they didn’t start out looking for.
So there’s a target for us: as many people as possible, seven disconnects in a year.
Why do we want to do this? Because society is manipulated. We are all caught up in an echo chamber that repeats its truisms in our ears over and over, and the most dangerous thing isn’t that we’ll believe the truisms, but that we’ll forget there’s a lot of other important things that aren’t even being talked about.
The disconnect is when you realise that media coverage is *missing the important point*. No, let me rephrase. The disconnect is when you realise that media coverage is *answering the unimportant question and ignoring the important one*.
How to encourage disconnects?
That’s tricky. My first idea was a regular article in a mag like New Zealand’s Listener, a left-leaning current affairs & TV listings journal that’s utterly part of the mainstream and seems quite unique in the western world – I’ve certainly never encountered anything elsee like it. If they spent one page a week tracking media coverage explicitly – quoting articles, identifying issues, watching the process of media spon – if this was delivered in an attractive visual package, bringing to light the groupthink and caution and quid pro quo that hamstrings mainstream media – I think disconnects could be given on a regular basis, article after article after article.
The blogs are doing this, but it’s piecemeal and caught up in political firestorms. Worthy feature articles on all parts of the political spectrum are likewise doing it, but it’s always long after the fact and always issue-focussed. These approaches are around, if you keep your eyes open. But the problem with the current state of affairs is that the media itself is never the subject. Something needs to alert people to the media as a process and a system, not just a window.
I have other ideas about ways for this to work, but they remain as blue-sky as magically appearing an extra page into the Listener each week. And this entry is long enough for now. I’m gonna leave it there. Turn some ideas over in my head for a week or so. One immediate problem: once people have been ‘disconnected’ from the media feed – then what? What would happen to these people? The only options I can think of are to become massive info-grazers like most of the political bloggers and internet junkies, processing masses of data points from all over into an ‘average’ that hopefully bears some resemblance to what’s true or important; or focusing on one media outlet that seems to share your perspective and letting that be your filter (kiwis could do worse than idiot/savant’s No Right Turn); or just giving up. None of these options appeal to me as a general answer. Is an alternative media a prerequisite for mass-resistance to current mainstream media systems? I dunno.
I’m also wondering whether people should have state-sponsored PR support dished out to the needy public like legal aid. To even the playing field a bit. But that might just be the Friday afternoon madness.
I hope that made sense, because I’m sure as heck not proofing it first. Please comment, too, if you’ve read this far. I might be totally missing some crucial point.